Jan 4, 2016

The Gay Adventures of Billy and Mandy

One of my favorite gay-subtext series of all time was The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy (2003-2008) on the Cartoon Network, about the friendship between two kids, the sinister Mandy (voiced by Grey Delisle) and the dopey Billy (Richard Horvitz), and the Grim Reaper, a skeleton with a Jamaican accent (voiced by Greg Eagles, left).

 No tv series aimed at a juvenile audience has ever gone so far in hinting about the existence of gay people.

1. Inclusivity.  Classmate Irwin’s mother turns out to be a decaying, 5,000-year old Egyptian mummy; his father advises that “No one can tell you who to fall in love with.”

In Billy and Mandy Save ChristmasSanta Claus turns out to be married to a female vampire, who has bitten him several times over the years. “You can’t control who you love,” he explains.  Although these relationships both pair male and female creatures, they tacitly validate same-sex bonds, which certainly would be far more conventional.



2. Hints about Same-Sex Practices.  When Billy gets a girlfriend, his father yells to his mother, “Hey, Gladys, Billy is in love -- with a girl!  You owe me five dollars!”, suggesting that there has been some good-natured speculation in the household about the boy’s sexual orientation.

 In a Lord of the Rings parody, a fey elf is overcome with lust as he praises a dwarf’s “thick, sinewy muscles,” and “bulging, compact thighs,” and a scene at the end of the episode shows a cabaret occupied entirely by same-sex elf-dwarf couples listening to Billy sing.

3. References to Gay Culture.  Billy’s parents speculate about his sexual identity in an episode entitled “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name,” a well-known euphemism for same-sex love.  “Dad Day Afternoon,” a play on Dog Day Afternoon, has nothing to do with bank robbery, but the plot about Grim hiding his grim-reaper career from his conservative father might be read as a parable for a closeted gay identity, like that of the primary pair in the movie.

4. Gay Marriage.  In “One Crazy Summoner” (August 5, 2005), Billy and Mandy attend summer school in a sorcery academy modeled on Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.  A misdirected potion makes Dean Toadblatt (John Vernon) fall in love with one of the male teachers, a human-sized squid (Weird Al Yankovic), who eagerly returns his interest.  In the next scene, they graphically kiss, then ride away on a broom decorated with tin cans and a “Just Married” banner, while the students cheer.

5. A Gay Romance.  In “Most Greatest Love Story Ever Told” (April 9, 2007), Billy's cousin Nergal, Jr. rejects a girl’s offer to walk him home from school, suggesting a lack of interest in preteen heterosexual practice; but he eagerly accepts Irwin’s offer to “hang out.”

Later he agrees to ask Mandy to the school dance for Irwin, and ends up with the date, whereupon Irwin angrily breaks off the friendship. Nergal is heartbroken, and he never “liked Mandy that way” in the first place, but he can’t call off the date and disappoint his unaccountably enthusiastic father (perhaps Nergal’s parents have been speculating about his sexual orientation, like Billy’s parents, but with less nonchalance).

At the dance, Nergal and Irwin fight, and Mandy rejects them both.  They look at each other.

Nergal says “So this is what love is?”  Irwin nods.

They begin to slow dance, holding each other closely as the camera pans out.  Nergal was never interested in Mandy, or in any girl, so his statement makes no sense unless he is referring to Irwin.  Perhaps not coincidentally, this was the last regular episode of the series.

Unfortunately, the last season hasn't been released on DVD.

Maxwell Atoms, the show's creator (center, with producer Noah Z. Jones and Atticus Schafer of The Middle), complains on his blog that his grandmother believes him to be gay.